My husband was a heavy-drinking, drug-taking skirt-chaser who worked only sporadically, so I divorced him three years ago. He quit drinking and drugs, renounced skirt chasing, and was constantly professing his love for me, so I took him back on the condition that he contributes financially. He soon started behaving badly. He does no housework, misuses my tools and appliances, and never buys anything or replaces things he breaks, including major appliances. When I bring up an issue, he talks loudly and nonsensically over me. I now say nothing until things get outrageous – like when he inspects my dinner plate to make sure I don’t have more food than he does. (If he feels shortchanged, he’ll reach into my food and help himself!) One Sunday, he disappeared, later claiming he was with a female coworker and, supposedly, her husband. Yesterday, he retreated to my closet to talk to another woman on the phone while I prepared dinner. Upon emerging, he complained his food was cold. He sees nothing wrong with his behavior, and I’m not supposed to question any of it. Is this relationship worth trying to save?  –Upset

In love, it’s the little things that count, like keeping your boyfriend’s food warm while he’s in your closet talking to another woman.

There’s apparently a thin line between contempt and hate. The way another man would gaze lovingly at the spray of his girlfriend’s freckles, your boyfriend only has eyes for your dinner – lest you have .16 of an ounce more mashed potatoes than he does. When he grabs a handful off your plate, you may finally squeak out a word or two in protest. He’ll of course do the gentlemanly thing – plug his ears and start mooing at the top of his lungs.

You only mention emotional abuse, but like a woman who’s always “falling down the stairs” and giving herself a black eye, you’ve probably been living for scraps – the declarations of love between the abuse, or the declarations you used to get. This has you asking the entirely wrong question, “Is this relationship worth trying to save?” The essential question (about this or any relationship) is “Does this person make me feel happy – and loved?” And in this case, the answer to that question is another question: “Hey, anybody know anybody who delivers moving boxes 24/7?”

As you’ve seen, denying reality doesn’t make it go away; it allows ugly behavior to become “the new normal” – until you find yourself wondering whether to get a second phone line and an outlet for a hotplate installed in the closet. You point yourself toward happier times by being honest about the relationship you have instead of pretending it’s the relationship you want. This takes accepting that being human means being prone to emotionally-driven errors in judgment – in this case, maybe because you are longing for love, are loath to admit to another failed romantic investment, and dread being alone. Of course, as I’ve written before, there’s nothing lonelier than feeling alone while in a relationship with somebody else – especially somebody who claims to love you and then shows it by bringing absolutely nothing to the table but a finely-calibrated scale. 

©2012, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email ( Weekly radio show:

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